TAMPA, Fla. - The pain and frustration on the face of each Tampa Bay Buccaneer following yesterday's crushing home loss could only have been matched by the confusion that cluttered their collective minds while watching later games around the NFL and trying to piece together the playoff scenarios that might still include them.
After the San Diego Chargers rumbled to a relatively easy 41-24 victory in front of 64,778 at Raymond James Stadium, there weren't very many.
Before heading for the parking lot, veteran cornerback Ronde Barber could only shake his head at the thought of the P-word.
"We've just got to win a game," Barber said.
That might not be good enough, either.
"When you have things in your hand, you have to take advantage of it," linebacker Barrett Ruud said after the team's first loss at Raymond James Stadium this season. "We didn't."
Make that three straight losses for the Bucs (9-6) who, heading into a big NFC South showdown at Carolina two weeks ago, had control of their fate with regard to the conference's No. 2 seed and even a bye into the second round of the playoffs.
Instead, Tampa Bay now needs to beat the Oakland Raiders (4-11) at home in its finale and also root for Dallas (9-6) to lose its season-ender on the road at the Eagles (8-6-1) in order to grab the final NFC wild-card spot.
"Now, we have to wait on people to lose," offensive tackle Donald Penn said. "It's sickening."
The Bucs have only themselves to blame. A lot about how they played yesterday was pretty sickening, starting with a pass defense that quarterback Philip Rivers shredded in hitting 21 of 31 passes for 287 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 136.7.
San Diego had no turnovers and forced three on Tampa Bay's side, while tailback LaDainian Tomlinson helped move the chains with 90 yards rushing on 21 carries, as the Bucs surrendered their most points in a home game since 1993.
"We've made it hard on ourselves," Bucs nose tackle Chris Hovan said.
The Chargers (7-8) did the opposite. They came into the game needing to win and hoping for a Buffalo upset at Denver later in the day. Guess what? The Bills shocked the Broncos on the road, meaning San Diego - in taking control of their destiny while separating the Bucs from theirs - can win the AFC West by defeating Denver at home Sunday night.
"We had our struggles," said Chargers coach Norv Turner, whose team was 4-8 three weeks ago. "I appreciate the guys in the locker room so much because through the negativity they've hung in there so well."
An early fumble by wide receiver Antonio Bryant on the first offensive possession was converted by Rivers into his first TD pass (an 11-yarder to tight end Brandon Manumaleuna) and the Chargers got an early jolt of confidence.